12 March 2024

Book Club Treats: Jane Austen Edition

As you know, I almost exclusively read KidLit. But every once in a while, someone hands me a book written for grown-ups that I thoroughly enjoy. ONCE PERSUADED, TWICE SHY by Melodie Edwards is a modern retelling of Jane Austen's PERSUASION, and it's every bit as fun as the original (which will always hold a special place in my heart as my first Austen novel). It follows the original plot almost beat-for-beat, in the most fun ways, and I felt like I was revisiting an old friend. Now we've both grown up a bit, so the relationship is not exactly like it used to be, but all of the best parts are still there. This is my favorite kind of retelling!

From the publisher:

This modern reimagining of Persuasion is full of witty banter, romantic angst, and compelling characters as it captures the heart of the classic Jane Austen novel.

 When Anne Elliott broke up with Ben Wentworth, it seemed like the right thing to do . . . but now, eight years later, she’s not so sure.

In her scenic hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Anne is comfortable focusing on her successful career: filling her late mother’s shoes as town councilor and executive director of her theater company. She certainly keeps busy as the all-around wrangler of eccentric locals, self-centered family members, elaborate festivals, and the occasional attacking goose. But the more she tries to convince herself that her life is fine as is, the more it all feels like a show—and not nearly as good as the ones put on by her theater company. She’s the always responsible Anne, always taken for granted and cleaning up after other people, and the memories of happier times with Ben Wentworth still haunt her.

So when the nearby Kellynch Winery is bought by Ben’s aunt and uncle, Anne’s world is set ablaze as her old flame crashes back into her life—and it’s clear he hasn’t forgiven her for breaking his heart. A joint project between the winery and Anne’s theater forces both Ben and Anne to confront their complicated history, and as they spend more time together, Anne can’t help but wonder if there might be hope for their future after all.


I read this book in one sitting, and immediately thought of a cookie to go with it! It's not exactly a #KidLitConfections recipe, because this isn't KidLit... but grown-ups need treats for their book clubs too, right? So how about #BookClubTreats for this (and any possible future grown-up books I may want to share)? 

Anne Elliott doesn't drink (something we have in common), but she does have one exception: on occasion when it's cold outside, she likes a hot, buttered rum. (This is not something we have in common, as I've never tried real rum. Or any alcohol.) However, I do love the taste of buttered rum candies, and I sometimes (often) sneak rum flavoring into some of my desserts. I think Anne would love my Buttered Rum Snowball Cookies!

Buttered Rum Snowball Cookies

close-up of Buttered Rum Snowball Cookies: small, round cookies coated in powdered sugar

2 c. butter

1 ½ c. powdered sugar, divided

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. rum flavoring

5 c. gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (I like Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1)

Cream butter and 3/4 c. powdered sugar together. Add salt and flavoring. Beat until light and fluffy. 

illustration of Veronica Bartles, wearing a purple top and green skirt, stepping up onto a pile of books held up by a frog, while carrying a cake and an open book in her outstretched hands. Text above her head reads "Book Club Treats"
Stir in flour, just until mixed. 

Chill 20 minutes to an hour (not too long, or the cookie dough will be difficult to scoop). 

Scoop dough into 1/2-inch balls, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then chill again 2-4 hours in the fridge or at least 30 minutes in the freezer. (Don't skip this step, or your cookies will be flat!) 

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes, until bottoms are just lightly golden brown. 

Cool slightly, then transfer to a large ziploc bag with remaining powdered sugar. Seal, and shake gently to coat.

p.s. I had the privilege of reading this book in advance, and I had this blog post planned months in advance of its February 27th release ... and then I forgot to schedule it to actually post on the release date! Oops! I'm late to the party, but hopefully the cookies will be bribe enough to forgive my lapse?

20 February 2024

Easy as Pie: KidLit Confections Chocolate Walnut Pie

Why do we say something is "easy as pie" when most bakers would argue that pies are definitely not one of the easiest things to make? Some people spend their whole lives trying to perfect their pie crust recipes, arguably the most difficult part of making a pie. Cutting the fat into the flour to just the right consistency. Adding the water and mixing just enough to bind it without making it tough... pie crust is in some ways the epitome of baking science, and most bakers will tell you that pie is one of the most difficult things you can make.

I was lucky. My mom taught me a pie crust recipe when I was just learning how to bake that had so many shortcuts and tricks...one that, if you followed the steps correctly, resulted in the most flaky and beautiful pie crust--one that got gobbled up by everyone who tasted my mom's apple pie.* I grew up thinking that "easy as pie" made sense, because as far as I knew, pie was probably the easiest dessert you could make! I had no idea how privileged I was. It wasn't until I grew up and took some cooking classes (and watched a LOT of the Food Network) that I realized the "right" way to make a pie crust was both much more difficult and (if I'm being honest) often less delicious than the "cheater" pie crust I was used to. 

Still, once I learned how to do things the "right" way, I couldn't help feeling like an imposter. Here, I was doing something that I thought was easy, and I got the results I wanted...but I did it "wrong." How could I honestly call myself a good baker, if I didn't even know how to do things right? (Turns out, most of the things I'm best at baking or cooking, I do "wrong." I would totally be kicked off of Master Chef in the first round, because I don't know any of those proper techniques--but I would possibly rock a show like Cutthroat Kitchen, where they take away the tools/ingredients for doing things properly and make you figure out how to make a dish without them...)

And it will surprise no one at this point that this contemplation of my favorite easy/not easy dessert reminds me of books and writing and the things we tell ourselves when we're trying to figure out how to live our best lives. 

A couple of weeks ago, in #KidLitChat, a group of us were discussing favorite writing craft books and systems for moving forward on a work in progress. I admitted that I don't really read books about how to write. I've tried. So many times. Because it's the first question people always ask when you get a group of writers together: "What are your favorite books on the craft of writing?" That's when I always pull myself off to the fringes of the crowd and hope that no one notices that I'm not saying anything. Because as soon as I start reading a craft book, my stubborn "you can't tell me what to do!" personality digs in its heels, and I don't want to write at all. Suddenly, this thing that brings me joy and passion like no other feels like homework. And I don't want to do it. 

BUT a library full of books is a master class in immersive, hands-on story creation. If you give me a stack of picture books, I will absolutely devour them over and over again, analyzing every word and phrase--what is said, what isn't, and why?--poring over the pictures and watching how the text and illustrations play off of each other... Or give me a stack of middle grade novels, and I'll analyze the character interactions and plot pacing. I'll dive so deep into the story that it's sometimes nearly impossible to extract myself again when I reach the end. And then I'll go back and study the ways that this author made that unloveable main character feel so very relatable. Or or that author painted a setting so real I could smell the cookies baking in the oven...

It's not that I'm not learning the craft. I'm not writing "cheater" stories any more than my pie crust (or chocolate mousse, or cookies, or ... pretty much everything I cook) is "wrong." It's just a different way of doing things. Because we all have different ways of doing things. And just because someone (or even a LOT of someones) does it another way ... that doesn't mean your way is the wrong way. My neurodivergent brain needs to try things out and see how they work. My best friend's neurotypical brain loves to have a set system to use as her scaffolding. Neither approach (to writing, or to life) is bad. 

And honestly, aren't we glad that there are so many different ways to make a pie?

On that note, some of my favorite recent reads mention pies and cooking--and being courageous. (Bonus: each of these books includes one or more recipes!!)

Fatima Tate Takes the Cake
by Khadijah VanBrakle

Fatima Tate wants to be a baker AND enjoy some innocent flirting with her hot friend Raheem--but her strict Muslim parents would never approve of either...

Seventeen-year-old Fatima Tate, aspiring baker (100% against her conservative parents' wishes), leads a pretty normal life in Albuquerque: long drives with BFF Zaynab, weekly services at the mosque, big family parties, soup kitchen volunteering (the best way to perfect her flaky dough recipe!), stressing about college...

But everything changes when she meets a charming university student named Raheem. Knowing the 'rents would FREAK, Fatima keeps their burgeoning relationship a secret... and then, one day, her parents and his parents decide to arrange their marriage. Amazing! True serendipity! 
Except it's not amazing. As soon as the ring is on Fatima's finger, Raheem's charm transforms into control and manipulation. Fatima knows she has to call the whole thing off, but Raheem doesn't like to lose. He threatens to reveal their premarital sexual history and destroy her and her family's reputation in their tight-knit Muslim community.
Fatima must find the inner strength to blaze her own trail by owning her body, her choices, and her future. Combining the frank authenticity of Elizabeth Acevedo and the complex social dynamics of Ibi Zoboi, FATIMA TATE TAKES THE CAKE is a powerful coming-of-age story that gives a much-needed voice to young Black Muslim women.

Pie in the Sky
by Remy Lai

A poignant, laugh-out-loud illustrated middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy's immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks! Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang!

When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he's landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn't speak English, and he's often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she's at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they'll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
In her hilarious, moving middle-grade debut, Remy Lai delivers a scrumptious combination of vibrant graphic art and pitch-perfect writing that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham's Real Friends, Kelly Yang's Front Desk, and Jerry Craft's New Kid.
A Junior Library Guild selection!

Porcupine's Pie
by Laura Renauld and Jennie Poh

Already a Thanksgiving classic, Porcupine's Pie is a heartwarming story about embracing thankfulness and generosity when things don't go as planned.

Porcupine can't wait to share Fall Feast with her woodland friends, so when everyone she greets is unable to bake their specialty due to a missing ingredient, Porcupine generously offers staples from her pantry. When Porcupine discovers that she, too, is missing a key ingredient, the friends all work together to create a new Fall Feast tradition. Porcupine's Pie will inspire children ages 4-8 to act generously. A recipe for "friendship pie" can be found at the end of the book.

Chocolate Walnut Pie


1 unbaked pie crust

1 c. dark corn syrup

1 c. sugar

2 Tbsp. butter, softened (NOT melted)

3 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 c. chopped walnuts

semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roll out pie crust and place into a 9-inch pie pan. Flute the edges. Sprinkle a layer of chocolate chips into the crust, just enough to cover the bottom. (It doesn’t have to completely fill the crust, and it should be no more than a single layer of chocolate chips—too many will make it difficult to cut the cooled pie!) Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, softened butter, eggs, and vanilla extract.

KidLit Confections in bold text above a cartoon penguin, sitting on a stack of books and reading THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS by Veronica Bartles and Sara Palacios. A cartoon hippo in a chef's hat and apron, holding a tray of freshly-baked cookies, stands next to her. Artwork by Philip Bartles
Stir in chopped walnuts to completely coat all pieces. Pour carefully over the top of the chocolate chips in the prepared pie crust. Place on a baking sheet (to catch any filling that might bubble over during the baking process), and carefully transfer to the preheated oven.

Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Then (without opening the oven), reduce heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 45 to 55 minutes, until a knife inserted ¾ of the way between the edge and center of the pie comes out clean.

Serve with whipped cream or your favorite vanilla-based ice cream. (I like pralines and cream for that extra dose of nutty goodness with my pie!) 

24 January 2024

Good Different: KidLit Confections Oatmeal Cookies

We often think about things that are "different" as bad, unsavory, or at least unpleasant. When we see something unfamiliar on the table for dinner, it's common to think "I'm not going to like that." And when the new kid in school dresses differently or has a funny haircut, we might wonder if they'll fit in with our friends...

These days, I'm pretty good at keeping an open mind, because most of my very favorite things in the world are things that were "different" when I first encountered them. (This of course includes most of my favorite people!) But I still sometimes have to remind myself that "different" isn't a bad word.

Especially when I feel like I am the one who is "different." When it feels like everyone else knows "the rules" and I'm stuck on the sidelines, wondering why no one taught me how to play the game. When I can't figure out the right words to say or the right clothes to wear or the right...anything, and I worry that I'll never quite "fit."

That's how I've felt my whole life, until last year when I was diagnosed as autistic. Suddenly, the whole world made sense! I wasn't broken. I wasn't defective. I was just Different. And that's a good thing.

One of my new favorite books is GOOD DIFFERENT by Meg Eden Kuyatt. (And my love for the story is completely justified. I just discovered that GOOD DIFFERENT is a Schneider Family Book Awards middle-grade honor book!)

Cover of GOOD DIFFERENT by Meg Eden Kuyatt - an illustration of a girl with auburn hair, wearing a pink and white striped t-shirt and blue jeans and holding a red book, against a purple and blue background
Selah knows her rules for being normal.

She always, always sticks to them. This means keeping her feelings locked tightly inside, despite the way they build up inside her as each school day goes on, so that she has to run to the bathroom and hide in the stall until she can calm down. So that she has to tear off her normal-person mask the second she gets home from school, and listen to her favorite pop song on repeat, trying to recharge. Selah feels like a dragon stuck in a world of humans, but she knows how to hide it.

Until the day she explodes and hits a fellow student.

Selah's friends pull away from her, her school threatens expulsion, and her comfortable, familiar world starts to crumble.

But as Selah starts to figure out more about who she is, she comes to understand that different doesn't mean damaged. Can she get her school to understand that, too, before it's too late?

This is a book I wish I'd had when I was growing up. I didn't know anything about autism. I had never even heard the word. I absolutely didn't know it was my word. If I had been able to see myself reflected in the books I was voraciously devouring from the library every week, maybe I would have been able to see that "different" is not a bad word. Yes, I was different from many of the kids in my class. I saw things from a different perspective. I processed information through a different lens. I had different reactions to various stimuli. There's no denying that I was in fact different. And like Selah, I tried so hard to follow the "rules" for being "normal," with often frustrating results. I wish I could have known that Different can be a very good thing. 

This is why we need diverse books. (side note: Because the theme for this week's KidLit Confections post is so similar to the last one, I'm going to stick with the password WeNeedDiverseBooks for printing the PDF versions of the Kid Lit Confections recipes!) We need to see the world reflected through all kinds of lenses. Not just the "normal" point of view from a white, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical perspective. Children (and adults!) of all types deserve the opportunity to see their perspectives reflected as Good Different. And even more, we need the opportunities to visit the perspectives of those who experience the world differently, so that we can better understand each other. That's why it's so important to not only have books that populate their fictional worlds with diverse characters, but those that are written (and illustrated) by folks who share those Different perspectives. Meg Eden Kuyatt is an autistic author. She understands what it's like to see the world through this lens. She knows what it means to be this particular kind of "Good Different," so her portrayal of Selah's story rings true in a way that those who haven't experienced it wouldn't be able to quite pinpoint.

Another amazing book I've read and loved recently is the picture book SAME LOVE, DIFFERENT HUG by Sarah Hovorka and Abbey Bryant

We like hugs big or small,

squeeze-me-tight or feathery light.

Bear hugs, morning hugs, jump hugs, too.

Quiet, loud; they all feel right.

But . . .  

What do others like?

Some people love a big, strong hug. Others like a gentle hug. Some don’t like to hug at all—they like to shake hands instead. Same Love, Different Hug is a gentle picture book that looks at how different people connect and navigate boundaries, modeling social-emotional skills for the youngest among us.

This is another book that I wish I'd had years ago. It's such a perfect way to explain to young readers (and adults--and everyone in between!) that everyone has different comfort levels with physical affection. Sometimes because of personality differences, sometimes because of disability reasons, and sometimes because we simply need some space (or a giant cuddle) at the moment. Paying attention to the ways our friends, family members, and others want and need affection is one of the best ways to show genuine love and care. 

I read this book through the lens of someone with autism, who sometimes gets overwhelmed by too much sensory input (and can't handle being touched) but sometimes needs the weight and pressure of a tight "squish hug" to reset my senses. And also through the lens of someone with a brain tumor that can cause all kinds of issues with my sensory inputs as signals get crossed on the way between my brain and the rest of my body. Sometimes, I want a squeeze-me-tight hug to know I'm not alone (or because my brain has literally forgotten how to breathe, and a tight hug can trigger the signal to remind me how to use my lungs). Sometimes even a feathery light hug is too much--sometimes even so painful that it makes me want to cry. It took me years to figure out how to express this to my family so that they could offer the right kind of hugs. And sometimes, I'm still too shy to ask for the hugs I need, because I'm afraid I might come across as either too demanding or too stand-offish. Books like SAME LOVE, DIFFERENT HUG make it easier to communicate to others that we all need different things from each other sometimes.

The author, Sarah Hovorka, mentions in the bio on her website that she deals with Crohn's Disease, and on the jacket flap of the book, it says that this partly inspired SAME LOVE, DIFFERENT HUG. We have different reasons for connecting to this particular story, but the connection is there. This is another reason we need diversity on our library shelves. Because it's not something I experience, I wouldn't necessarily pick up a book about (or created by someone who has) Crohn's Disease expecting to find a perspective relevant to my own. But the struggles (at least in this case) are similar, and this book helped me to find simple words to help explain my needs to friends and family members who haven't experienced anything like it themselves.

Next up on my To Be Read list: THE LOTUS FLOWER CHAMPION by by mother-daughter authors Pintip Dunn and Love Dunn

illustration of a young woman with black hair, wearing a pink top, rolled-up blue jeans, and sneakers, wielding a sword on the beach while a swirling wave of water crashes around her. Around the border are lotus flowers, fish, and a crocodile within the wave

No escape. Follow the rules. And don’t count on reality―in this uniquely vibrant romantasy from NYT bestselling author Pintip Dunn and daughter Love Dunn…

It looks like paradise…only it’s not. This was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Thailand. One last wish for my dying mama. Instead, we’re stranded on a lush, stunning island with ten strangers―held captive as Thai mythology unfolds around us…and within us.

Now we’re being tested. We’re expected to face our greatest fears―and possible deaths―in hopes of awakening some kind of dormant gift…or curse. One by one, we’re transforming, echoing the strange and sometimes wondrous abilities found in Thai folktales.

But my mama has only days to live, my papa is missing, and I’m forced to trust a group of strangers…including our evasive, dark-eyed tour guide, who resembles a minor god. 
Toss me in the ocean and feed me to the naga now.

Only I’m no hero. My days are managed by numbers and the compulsions that used to keep me safe.

I have to prove how far I can go. To survive. To protect my family.

And to find a way off this perilous island where everything is a lie…including reality.

The main character in this book has OCD, just like the co-author Love Dunn. This is another kind of Different that has been unfairly stigmatized for years. And it's another kind of Different that I am exploring for myself. (My therapist is pretty sure I have it, but I'm waiting for an appointment with a psychiatrist to officially confirm the diagnosis. Because even though I firmly believe that self-diagnosis is perfectly valid in cases of neurodivergence, when most of the diagnostic criteria and assessments were written by neurotypical folks who don't fully understand the way our brains work...and even though I strongly suspect that my therapist is right, because I have so many "OCD Tendancies" that it definitely points to a diagnosis...I still need the "official" confirmation before my brain will let me claim it. Maybe that's a symptom of my OCD craving the completion of getting everything "right...") 

I'm excited to explore this aspect of myself through a story that takes a deep dive into traditional Thai myths and legends. Because I'm a huge fan of retellings (as I'm sure you can gather from the themes of my own books!)

And because I love to pair the books I'm reading with favorite tried-and-true or brand-new delicious recipes, I thought that this week's books fit really well with my gluten-free, lower-sugar (for those of us who might need to watch our blood sugar, or who occasionally prefer a treat that isn't quite as sweet) "Good Different" Oatmeal Cookies. Oatmeal Cookies--especially my favorite variety, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies--often suffer from the same negative "Different" label in the cookie world that we apply to the people we meet who aren't "like us." But they are also extremely versatile and brimming with possibilities! Oatmeal cookies can be plain and simple or richly decadent, depending on what you add to them.

These "Good Different" Oatmeal Cookies are sweetened with a raisin puree, instead of processed white (or brown) sugar. They aren't sugar-free, because raisins have quite a bit of sugar in them (about 104 grams of sugar in the cup of raisins used to sweeten the cookies), but that's a significant reduction from the sugar in my original Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (approximately 210 grams of sugar: 100 grams in 1/2 c. of white sugar and 110 grams in 1/2 c. of brown sugar). This provides an excellent base for all kinds of creative mix-ins to personalize your cookies.

Turn them into a healthy breakfast option by adding bits of dried fruit and your favorite nuts for lasting energy and protein to get you through your morning.

Make a decadently sweet treat by adding chocolate chips, M&Ms, or even mini marshmallows. There's literally no limit to what you might create when you dare to explore new options!

 “Good Different” Oatmeal Cookies

oatmeal raisin cookies on a white plate with a pink flower border, centered on a brown, tan, and turquoise round placemat

KidLit Confections in bold text above a cartoon penguin, sitting on a stack of books and reading THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS by Veronica Bartles and Sara Palacios. A cartoon hippo in a chef's hat and apron, holding a tray of freshly-baked cookies, stands next to her. Artwork by Philip Bartles

1 c. raisins

¼ c. water

1 c. butter

½ c. peanut butter (optional)**

2 eggs

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. ground ginger (optional)

1 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. vanilla extract

3 c. gluten-free oat flour

2 c. gluten-free oats

softened butter and raisin puree in a large metal mixing bowl Blend water and raisins together to make a smooth puree. In a large bowl, cream together butter, raisin puree, and peanut butter**. I like to use natural peanut butter (100% peanuts), so there’s no added sugar.

after creaming the butter and raisin puree, eggs, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla are added to the mixing bowl   Add eggs, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla. Mix until combined, then turn speed up to high and beat until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes).

oatmeal cookie dough with walnuts and raisins ready to be stirred in Mix in flour. Reduce mixer speed to low and add oats. Then, stir in 1 ¼ to 1 ½ c. of your favorite mix-ins. I used 1 c. walnuts and ¼ c. raisins. Or try: dried blueberries, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, pecans, chopped dried apples, M&Ms…whatever you like best!

baking sheet with balls of oatmeal raisin cookie dough - an empty butter wrapper is placed over one cookie ball, and a hand is pressing on the paper to flatten the doughRoll into 1-inch balls. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart, and press to flatten each cookie slightly.

slightly-flattened oatmeal cookie dough balls, on a tray, ready to bake
Bake* at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 9 minutes. Let cool about 5 minutes on tray before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 5 ½ dozen cookies.

*Optional: Bake a few cookies & freeze the extra cookie dough. Roll dough balls and flatten slightly. Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheet (no space necessary) and freeze for 2-4 hours. Once frozen, transfer cookie dough to a large freezer bag and return to your freezer. You can bake straight from frozen at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-14 minutes. Freshly-baked cookies anytime you want!

**If you choose to omit the peanut butter, you may need to add 1 c. oat flour with the eggs in order to achieve the right emulsification to get the light, fluffy texture to the batter before adding the rest of the flour, oats, and mix-ins.

Printable PDF Recipes

12 January 2024

KidLit Confections: Cilantro Lime Cookies vs. Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cookies (aka: We Need Diverse Books)

(The recipes, including a link to the index of printable PDF files, can be found at the bottom of this post.)

Ah, January. That time when we collectively resolve to change everything about ourselves in order to fit the mold we think everyone else wants us to cram ourselves into. Isn't it magical?  wonderful??  absolutely terrifying?

Ugh!! Stop. This isn't a post about my New Year's Resolutions. Because I don't believe goals should wait until January 1st to begin. We can set new goals and look forward to achieving new milestones every single day. Give yourself a year to work on them, if you want, but who says that year has to start on January 1st? (The US government starts their fiscal year in October. Who says you can't start your goal-setting year in May? Or February? Or September?)    Goals are better than Resolutions. Goals give us something to work toward. Resolutions are all about the things we're trying to get away from. And I'd rather embrace the good and build on my strengths than focus on the negative, which has never worked for me anyway.  I said so, and this is my blog, so I get to make the rules!

I've been thinking about this post for weeks. Trying to come up with the perfect words to share my new project. But trying to find the perfect words has kept me from moving forward, so I'm just jumping in!!

Presenting: #KidLitConfections

KidLit Confections in bold text above a cartoon penguin, sitting on a stack of books and reading THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS by Veronica Bartles and Sara Palacios. A cartoon hippo in a chef's hat and apron, holding a tray of freshly-baked cookies, stands next to her. Artwork by Philip Bartles
New (and sometimes previously-shared, but often recently-revised) recipes for delicious cookies, pies, and other desserts (as well as some savory treats, if I feel like it!!) paired with the book(s) I'm reading these days and why I love them. Featuring super-cute artwork by my artist husband, Philip Bartles

For this inaugural #KidLitConfections post, I wanted to find the perfect books to highlight to really kick this off right. But the more I thought about the books I've read recently...and the books I've read not-so-recently...and the books that touched my soul so deeply that they helped to shape me into the person I am today... I realized that there really isn't a "perfect" book (or even a group of books) to kick things off with. (But I do have a growing list of book recommendations on my bookshop.org lists, if you're looking for something fabulous to read!)

Because the most wonderful thing about dessert is that there are so many different kinds (even if you narrow it down to just one category of desserts--like my favorite, cookies). You can find examples to fit almost every flavor preference...and if it doesn't exist yet, the perfect recipe can be created! Chances are, everyone you know has a favorite dessert. And chances are also pretty high that many of the people you know have a different favorite than you. But when we share our favorite treats with each other, we not only grow closer in those shared experiences, but we get a little taste (quite literally) of what makes the other person who they are.

That's also the most wonderful thing about books. There are stories about so many different experiences. Tales from every culture and point of view. And when we share those perspectives with each other through our books and stories, we get a little taste (metaphorically speaking) of what makes "them" special. (Because as much as we want to pretend we can ignore an "us vs. them" mindset, those who are honest with ourselves will admit that we cannot help but see those who are unfamiliar as "them" or "other.") And if the books that contain these "other" stories aren't published yet (perhaps YOUR experience is one that is missing from the big picture!), there is always room on the bookshelf for more. Sadly, the world sometimes fights against the need for these books, but make no mistake: we need all of the stories. Because all voices matter. All experiences matter. All people matter. Even you. Even me. Even "them."

We need these diverse books, just as much as we need diversity in our dessert menu. Not just because you would personally miss them if the world didn't have your favorite chocolate chip cookies. Or gingerbread. Or flan. Not just because people (especially children!) need to be able to see themselves represented in the books they find on the library shelves. This variety is also important because desserts are a fun way to explore new flavors, and because books are an essential way to discover new outlooks. You might miss out on a new favorite treat if you never get to experience the sweet nuttiness of baklava or the syrupy, creamy decadence of gulab jamun. And you might miss a connection with that neighbor who seems a little different or fail to appreciate the beauty of your best friend's cultural celebrations if you never have a chance to explore the world through their perspectives. 

You might, like me, discover something new about yourself. I was in my 40s before I discovered, though reading things written by autistic authors (and then going through testing and consultation with first a therapist and then a psychiatrist for confirmation--although I absolutely believe self-diagnosis is perfectly valid for neurodivergence) that I am autistic too. And as soon as I discovered that I was autistic, so many things in my life just clicked into place. Suddenly, the world made sense in a way it never had. But I would never have even looked if I didn't have the opportunity to explore the world through a voice I thought would be completely separate and "other" from my own.

You might, like so many others, discover that the "other" voices you're experiencing in the stories you read truly are different and unique from your own perspective. (Not every story is yours, and that's okay!) But in stepping into that POV for a moment, until you hit "The End" and close the book, you may discover that the "other" you dreaded, or even detested, is not so different from you after all. You may discover common ground that allows you to form deep and lasting friendships. And they might be able to understand you better as well.

Not every story is for every person. You may pick up a book and discover by the end of chapter one that it simply isn't for you. That's okay. Put it back on the shelf for the person who needs it. But it's important to keep sampling new and different things from time to time. And to make space on the shelf for those stories that haven't yet been told (or that aren't told enough)! Because ultimately, our stories are the only things we have that can truly bring us together.

With that in mind, today I'm sharing two different cookie recipes. Both were recipe requests from the same person.** If you would like a printable PDF version of these recipes, there is a link to an index for all #KidLitConfections recipes at the bottom of this page. The current password for printing is WeNeedDiverseBooks

The first recipe, Cilantro & Lime Cookies, was very difficult for me to create because I'm one of those people for whom cilantro tastes like soap. So I couldn't (and frankly didn't want to) taste test these. But with a bit of trial-and-error, and a LOT of willing taste-test volunteers who love cilantro, I was able to create a recipe that was universally declared a winner by every cilantro-loving taste-tester in my sample group. I can't attest to the deliciousness of these cookies. They simply aren't designed for me.

The second recipe, Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cookies, quickly became one of my favorite cookies ever. It tastes like luxury and decadence, with a hint of nostalgia. (My dad used to get chocolate raspberry sticks for Christmas every year, and he would always share them with me while we sat and talked about the Very Important things going on in my life.) For me, this is the perfect combination for the ultimate dessert. But for my youngest daughter, they are disgusting. She hates the flavors of chocolate and fruit combined. These cookies are simply not designed for her.

You might love one and hate the other. You might think one is meh and love the other. You might love or hate both varieties. But wouldn't it be sad if we only had desserts that fit my criteria for the best treats? Or if my daughter's taste preferences ruled it all? One of us (and likely many of you) would always feel left out. We need diverse desserts. We need diverse books. We need each other.

Cilantro & Lime Cookies

Cilantro and Lime cookies: green cookies with gold sugar sprinkles on a white parchment paper background

You will need:

1 bunch cilantro (about 2 oz)

½ c. olive oil

3 eggs

¼ c. lime juice

½ c. butter

2 c. sugar

8 packets true lime crystalized lime

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. cornstarch

2-2 ¼ c. fine cornmeal

2-2 ½ c. gluten-free all-purpose flour (Bob’s Redmill 1-to-1 is my favorite)

Gold sugar sprinkles


Remove and discard cilantro stems. Wash leaves and pat dry on a folded, clean cotton towel.

In a blender, blend together cilantro leaves, olive oil, and eggs on high speed for about 45 seconds to a minute, until smooth. Add lime juice and True Lime crystalized lime powder. Blend for 30-45 seconds. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add cilantro mixture, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch. Mix until combined, then turn speed up to high and beat until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes).

Stir in 2 c. each of cornmeal and flour. If mixture is too sticky, gradually stir in up to ¼ c. extra cornmeal and ½ c. additional flour.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Dip into gold sugar sprinkles and flatten each slightly. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart and bake* at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Cookies

white plate with a trim of green leaves and blue flowers with a pile of dark chocolate cookies, on a wooden tabletop

 1 ½ c. butter

1 ½ c. sugar

4 eggs

4 Tbsp. tapioca starch

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 c. freeze-dried raspberry powder

1 c. cocoa powder

3 ½ c. gluten-free all-purpose flour (Bob’s Redmill 1-to-1 is my favorite)

6 oz. mini chocolate chips

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, starch, baking powder, and salt. Mix until combined, then turn speed up to high and beat until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes).

Stir in raspberry powder and cocoa powder. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Mix in 3 c. flour. If mixture is too sticky, gradually stir in up to ½ c. additional flour.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart, and press to flatten each cookie slightly.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes. Let cool about 5 minutes on tray before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

*If desired, you can freeze the extra cookie dough. Roll dough balls, dip in sprinkles, and flatten slightly. Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheet (no space necessary) and freeze for 2-4 hours. Once frozen, transfer cookie dough to a large freezer bag and return to your freezer. You can bake straight from frozen at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-14 minutes. Freshly-baked cookies anytime you want! 

**I have a "cookie challenge" for missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  If they write to me--a hand-written letter sent to me in the mail--and tell me about a small daily miracle--something beautiful and uplifting that they have seen or experienced, they can request any kind of cookie they'd like, and I will create the recipe if it doesn't already exist (or simply make the cookies if it's an already established variety--I've had a few requests for plain chocolate chip) and send back a letter of my own with a sampling of their requested cookies. (I started with friends, family, and missionaries who have served in the areas where I've lived, and I allow them to share my address with their friends and family as well, so now I even get letters from missionaries I've never met, some of which are connected to me by three or four degrees of separation! I also have extended this same challenge a few times to a few other friends--mostly other KidLit writers and illustrators I've met through conferences and other events.) I think it would be fun to open up the challenge with a wider scope and see where and what kind of letters I could receive...but I haven't been able to figure out how to do so without sharing my address with the whole world or investing in a PO box (which is currently outside my budget)...

Printable PDF Recipes

24 October 2023

Challenge Accepted! #KidLitChat Popcorn Pie

Whether we're real-life, in-person friends or just casual acquaintances from social media, if you're here, reading this blog, you probably know me well enough to know a few key facts about me:

1. I love KidLit! From cute and quirky picture books to heart-wrenching middle grade novels to YA books that make you think about the world in new ways (hopefully with a heavy dose of laughter swirled in)... books feed my soul and nourish me in ways that nothing else in this world can.

2. I love a challenge! Most of the diverse skills I've acquired over the years, most of my biggest accomplishments in life, most of the things I am most proud of have been the result of a challenge either explicitly or implicitly given.

3. I can make just about anything into dessert. I always laugh when I see the dieting advice that says if you are easily tempted by sweets, just don't buy them, because you can't be tempted to eat something that you don't have access to. Because I can make a pretty delicious dessert out of ingredients you wouldn't usually categorize as "sweets."

Popcorn Pie: caramel popcorn crust, with a pale yellow popcorn custard filling and piped dallops of whipped cream around the edges, in a glass pie dish on a granite countertop
So... a few weeks ago, when I joined the #KidLitChat (Tuesday nights at 9 pm Eastern on the BlueSky social media app), and someone in the chat mentioned once eating a Popcorn Pie, I was intrigued! I love popcorn! And who doesn't love pie?** Of course, we all demanded that they share the recipe, and when they didn't, I quipped that I would just have to create a Popcorn Pie recipe to share! And last Tuesday night, I had a delicious piece of Popcorn Pie to eat while talking about the business side of publishing in #KidLitChat. But just because the pie was finished and ready to eat didn't quite mean I had a recipe to share just yet.

My recipe creation process is much like my writing process for the books I write. The idea sparks with a fully-realized main character (in this case, Popcorn Pie) popping into my head to say hello. Then, I need to sit with them for a few days (or weeks...or sometimes longer) to get to know them well. Who are they? What are they made of, deep down? What surprises will they share with me if I'm patient enough to really listen? What assumptions might someone make when first introduced to them? Are any of those assumptions correct? (And how do I best help the audience to let go of their false assumptions?)

2 Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Maryland Baltimore Mission: Sister Haycock and Sister Hammer taste-testing and approving the first pieces of Popcorn Pie

When I feel like I know my main character (in this case, the Popcorn Pie) well enough to really understand what they're made of, the real work and experimentation can begin. With my manuscripts, this is when I pull out my story pencils and a notebook and begin writing the first draft of my novel or picture book. With my recipes, this is when I start pulling ingredients out of the pantry and fridge and tossing them together to create the thing I've imagined. And with both manuscripts and recipes, I am well aware that there will be mistakes and missteps along the way, plenty of opportunities to revise, and maybe even a moment or two when I tweak something in an attempt to make it better and only make it worse. (This is why I keep copies of every draft of my manuscripts--in case I need to revisit the scene I deleted twelve drafts ago--and why I always buy at least double what I think I'll need for a new recipe!)

This messy-draft approach to recipe creation usually means that by the time I have the recipe figured out well enough that I'm ready to share taste tests of the dessert, my page(s) full of notes and scribbles are illegible to most anyone but me (and my children, who all learned how to cook by helping me in the kitchen--and often acted as my scribes when I was in full recipe-creation mode and just yelled out ingredients and quantities as I tossed them into the bowl). So just like a manuscript needs a final once-over to look for typos and missing words before sending it out into the world, I usually have to make the recipe once or twice more to make sure I remember how this messy list of ingredients came together to make the final product.

Now, just in time for tonight's #KidLitChat, I finally have the recipe ready to share, with a few variations for those who might want to do some experimenting of their own!

#KidLitChat Popcorn Pie

1 1/2 c. skim milk

2 bags roasted corn tea

1/2 c. heavy cream

4 egg yolks 

3 Tbsp. sugar

1/4 c. cornstarch

1/2 tsp. buttery popcorn salt

2 tsp. vanilla

1 Tbps. butter

4 1/2 c. popcorn

1/2 c. homemade caramel sauce (recipe below will make far more than you need!)

Cooking spray (or a little bit of extra butter--to grease your pie plate)

Whipped cream (make your own, or use the stuff from a can--either way, it's delicious)

Spray your pie plate with cooking spray (I like to use the buttery-flavored spray oil for this, because it gives that tiny extra bit of butter flavor without the extra work of slathering real butter around the pie plate--but either way works. The point is to make sure your caramel corn crust doesn't stick!) 

Pop your favorite popcorn and measure approximately 4 1/2 cups into a large bowl. (Make sure to pick the fluffiest pieces! You don't want to break a tooth biting into an unpopped or half-popped kernel.) Pour 1/2 c. of your caramel sauce over the popcorn and stir to coat thoroughly, then quickly pour the whole thing into your pie plate. Spray your hands lightly with oil (or rub a tiny bit of butter in like lotion--so the caramel doesn't stick to your hands), and then press the caramel corn into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate to form a crust. Set this aside while you make the custard filling. 

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk over medium-low heat, just until small bubbles start to form around the edges. (Watch it carefully and do not boil! Milk can burn quickly if left unattended.) Drop in the roasted corn teabags and set aside to steep for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate your eggs and place the yolks in a large mixing bowl (save the whites for a yummy omelet in the morning). Add cornstarch, sugar, and popcorn salt, and whisk together well.

Remove teabags from milk (squeeze gently to express the excess milk from the teabags back into the pot) and stir in heavy cream. Return to medium-low heat and stir gently until steam begins to rise. (You may see small bubbles around the edges of the pan, but we aren't really trying to get the milk/cream too warm at this point.)

Remove milk from heat and very slowly pour into the egg mixture (I like to use a ladle to add the milk a small amount at a time), whisking constantly so that the egg doesn't curdle. 

Once the milk is fully incorporated, pour it back into the pan and return to medium-low heat. Heat slowly, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. (You'll know it's ready when the custard coats the back of a spoon.) Pour into the caramel corn crust and chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours. Garnish with whipped cream and serve.

Variation #1:
The moisture in the custard can make the bottom of the crust a bit soft. If you don't want that, you can melt 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips and spread over the caramel corn just after forming the crust, before making the custard. Allow the chocolate to cool and set. This will act as a moisture barrier to keep the custard from soaking into the caramel corn. (If you spread the chocolate too thick, however, it makes the pie difficult to cut into!)

Variation #2: The custard filling has a pleasing buttered popcorn flavor, so if you don't want the added sugar of the caramel corn for your crust, you can use your favorite homemade or store-bought pie crust instead. Simply bake the crust in advance, as you would for any custard pie.

Variation #3: If you can't find the roasted corn tea (I bought mine at Wegman's, and I've also seen it at Korean grocery stores, but I also found it on Amazon, if your local grocer doesn't have it), you can make the custard with popped corn instead. You will need to adjust some of the ingredients for the custard recipe:

2 c. skim milk (instead of the 1 1/2 c. in the original recipe)

5 c. popped corn (instead of the roasted corn teabags)

1 Tbsp. cornstarch (instead of the 1/4 c. in the original recipe)

Place popped corn into a large bowl. (No need to pick out the partially-popped kernels for this part!) Pour the warmed milk over the corn, and stir. The white, fluffy part of the popcorn will melt away into the milk, and it's kind of fun to watch! (This is why it's important to reduce the cornstarch from the original recipe. I didn't think to do this the first time I tried this variation, and it made my custard way too thick!!) Let sit for 10 minutes, as in the original recipe, while you prepare the other ingredients.

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the milk back into the saucepan. Press lightly with the back of a spoon to get as much of the milk out of the corn as possible. (You may see some of the starchy parts of the corn squeeze through the holes of the strainer into the pan. This is not really a problem, as they're very small and they kind of melt away into the custard anyway.)

Continue with the instructions above to finish making your Popcorn Pie.

Homemade Caramel

1 1lb. brown sugar

1 c. karo syrup

1 stick butter

1 can sweetened, condensed milk

In a heavy pot over medium heat, melt together sugar and corn syrup, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in butter, then milk. Return to medium heat and bring back to a boil. Boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Use 1/2 c. to make your caramel corn crust. Transfer the remaining caramel to a glass jar and store in the fridge for future desserts. Or simply make a giant bowl of popcorn and pour the caramel sauce over it all, so you have caramel corn to snack on with your pie (or tomorrow, when you're sad that the pie is all gone).

*Note! If your custard starts to curdle a bit when you're cooking it (if you mixed the hot milk mixture into the eggs too quickly, or if you forget to keep stirring while cooking it afterward...or if the kitchen gods decide to test your patience by throwing a problem into the mix when you're sure you've done everything right, and why won't this turn out the way it's supposed to???) DON'T FRET! Just pour the custard into your blender and give it a spin for a minute or so (or hit it with the immersion blender right in the pan, if you have one of those!) and the lumps will probably melt away. And if not, it will still taste good. (And mistakes just give you an excuse to make another Popcorn Pie later, right?)

**I know there are people who literally don't love pie. You might be one of those people. But honestly, you must admit that most people who have tried it enjoy pie. 

Next up: I've been challenged to create a Cilantro Lime Cookie! I've never failed a recipe challenge yet, but this one will be tricky. (I'm one of the folks with the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap.) Luckily, I have a group of taste-testers ready and willing to sample batches of cookies until I get it right